Review: Thor: Ragnarok

thor

Story: Thor and other characters from previous Marvel films team up to save Asgard from an evil being (saying anything more would be a spoiler, sorry).

Review: This movie is HILARIOUS. The plot/story is pretty generic, but it doesn’t matter because it’s only there as a platform for all the great comedy writing. I can hardly believe this is a sequel to the ultra-boring original Thor movie, but clearly they’ve grown a lot as filmmakers since then. They take every possible opportunity to tell jokes – and further kudos to them for leaning hard into the cheap laughs. The actors and editors to a really excellent job of over-under acting at the right moments and getting the timing just right on delivery of punchlines. Even the visual gags that are predictable are still funny because they go that extra couple of inches to make it more ridiculous. The action is okay, and the visual effects are stunning in parts (look at even the detail in the pretty rainbow bridge above! Ooo!), but more importantly this is the best comedy I’ve seen in years.

Recommended for: Marvel superhero movie fans, people who like comedy and laugh at a good fart joke.

Content notes: (7+) – Monsters with glowing eyes and some blood/goo spatter situations.

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The Top 20 Feminist Movies of All Time

A lot of films try really hard to portray women in some ‘correct’ way, but they often fall short by either avoiding one stereotype so hard that they end up with another equally flat stereotype or else they just ring false to such a degree that almost none of the film is believable, much less enjoyable. Therefore, I’m deliberately leaving out of this list any movies which exclusively or heavily feature female characters that are excessively mentally/emotionally unbalanced or that just spend the whole movie being helpless/brainless females who are needlessly tormented, without doing so to make a worthy point (viz., All About Eve, Gone with the Wind, Rosemary’s Baby, The Silence of the Lambs, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Million Dollar Baby, Chicago, Thelma & Louise, Carrie, V for Vendetta, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Basic Instinct, Juno, Boys Don’t Cry, Erin Brockovich, etc.). This is a list of the top 20 films that succeeded in presenting a complex, balanced female point of view while somehow avoiding all (or most) of the usual pitfalls – ranked in a highly debatable order. This fact alone, regardless of whether or not the female protagonist in question was the main character of the story, is the criteria being used.

20. The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947)
The_Ghost_and_Mrs_Muir_2When I was little I was very impressed with the fact that this movie had both a mother and daughter who weren’t stereotypically afraid of ghosts, and also with how dignified Gene Tierney’s character was in general. To be fair, I will also include the opposition to my opinion (which comes primarily from my dad). It’s true that the main character is conned and betrayed by a skunk of a guy, and that her success as an authoress is entirely because she’s ghost-writing (so to speak) the words of a male character. To this commentary, I would argue that the point of the movie was not so much the mistakes or triumphs of Mrs. Muir as it was how she learned from her mistakes – and more importantly how she and Captain Gregg raised Anna Muir to be a better and more competent woman than her mother (this was my main takeaway seeing it as a little girl, so perhaps this point is lost on adult first-time viewers).

19. Legally Blonde (2001)

elle-woods

Okay, bear with me on this one because you’ll have to think about it for a second. On the surface, if you’ve never sat through the whole film, it looks like a movie about a dumb blonde who brings “grrrl power” to Harvard. But it’s really not. This is a film about how people shouldn’t judge a woman as not being smart or competent just because she likes the color pink and and obsesses over pop culture and fashion as a hobby. She’s capable and intelligent enough to do well in a tough environment without significantly altering herself, and she’s confident enough to walk into a snotty law school wearing pink and carrying a tangerine iBook. It’s a story about how people can defy categorization when they really try and don’t give up. It’s also the story of a girl who starts out thinking a man can love her without also respecting her, but finds out that if she respects herself and expects men to do the same she’ll be much happier in life. The protagonist, and even the female rival who *spoiler alert* eventually becomes her ally when they bond over a mutual struggle for respect in the legal profession, are not 2D characters. That’s pretty unusual for this kind of comedy. Now, granted, the sequels to this film suck beyond belief in every conceivable way, but I’m only talking about this one

 

18. On a Clear Day You Can See Forever (1970)

daisyDespite the fact that the leading lady in this one is very in control of her destiny and powers, which is part of why the film’s on this list, one could argue against it by saying she allows herself to be manipulated by her romantic interests to a certain degree. BUT the realization of that by the modern incarnation of her through her past life allows her to grow a sense of self enough to become more independent in the newer era. This forces the viewer to think about feminist issues in a creative way.

17. Supercop (1992)

yeohMichelle Yeoh played a supporting character in this film, but she plays the equal half of a team of cops with amazing physical skills who take down the bad guys. Jackie Chan is also great in this film, but that’s entirely beside the point. Yeoh’s character is neither weak nor faux-macho. She’s just a supercop doing her job.

16. Hello, Dolly! (1969)

dollyDolly’s the master of all she surveys through the power of being a cunning and confident (if a bit sneaky) gal. Many different character types are depicted in this film, but the main character is a type of role not usually written for women and someone who is clearly very comfortable being exactly who she is no matter how garishly she might be perceived by others. One could argue that casting a younger than usual actress for the film was a bit ageist, but Streisand was undeniably the best suited for the part because of her personality and how she played the role – and her phenomenal singing.

15. Auntie Mame (1958)

mameThis film portrayed a wide range of female personalities, while exploring them at length from a societal and philosophical standpoint. Mame is by no means a perfect person. She’s not especially talented or persistent at many of the things she tries, and she’s frequently self centered or inconsiderate. But she’s also independent and free-thinking, creative, bold, and brave. She breaks her nephew from the influence of prejudice and challenges the traditional view of a single parent for both herself and a certain Ms. Gooch. Auntie Mame paved the way for a completely new kind of female protagonist in media.

14. I.Q. (1994)

iqYes, it’s true that Meg Ryan’s character isn’t officially the protagonist of the movie, but having a girl who’s more of a genius than Einstein and just needs a little push in the social arena is still a vastly agreeable portrayal of a 1950s woman compared to most.

13. Independence Day (1996)

vivicaVivica A. Fox’s character, seen here in an action pose from the film, is arguably a minor one, but certainly memorable as a strong one. Jasmine could have easily been a dreadfully flat character, about like her flaky co-worker who got toasted. But instead the filmmakers pulled together a character who was multilayered, tough, and every bit as heroic as her male counterpart in a different set of circumstances. It’s hard to argue in favor of any positive portrayal of a stripper in a movie, but this one defies the norms so well that it overcomes and even becomes a commentary on the situation itself.

12. Harry Potter film series (2001-2011)

hermYes, they deserve recognition because a female writer has towered above all men before her with the success of the franchise, but really these movies are basically just on the list for Hermione. She’s by no means the main character, but she’s such a great character that she stands out. She’s a genius, a tough cookie, an activist, and really the backbone of the trio. Luna’s a great character too, but not in the same way. Hermione is THE feminine icon of these stories, and possibly the defining feminine fictional character of a generation who grew up on these stories.

11. Terminator 2: Judgment Day

Sarah-ConnorYeah, she’s in a looney bin in the beginning, but that’s not really her fault. You’d be a little on edge too if the same backstory had happened to you and the fate of all humanity rested on your ability to protect and train your offspring from homicidal cyborg things. And of course it’s nice that Sarah Connor in this movie kicks some serious butt and raises her son to free Earth from an evil computer. They undid how cool she is in T3 and the TV show, but that’s why I ignore the existence of everything after T2 as being beneath contempt. There were recently some negative articles about this film after people got all huffy over a critique of Wonder Woman, the huffy writers mostly being men (and some women for unknown reasons) who don’t see how ironic it is to rant about how women are portrayed since their main complaint was that Sara Connor didn’t look or act feminine enough and was therefore faux-masculine (a comment which only an insecure and in-denial sexist would make about any woman in the first place). Anyways, Connor is a character with considerable psychological and emotional depth and displays a tremendously complex character arc over both this movie and the two films combined (but mostly this one since the first one was just a wee bit stupid).

10. The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988)

sallyThe character of 9-year-old Sally Salt, seen here brilliantly played by the now very famous Sarah Polley, begins and moves the whole story forward by being more brave, driven, and strong willed than the group of grown men comprising the rest of the team. A most unusual protagonist for an 80s fantasy film, and one of the great female characters in ficton.

9. Star Wars – original trilogy (1977-1983)

LeiaThis image may not be the most dignified shot of Princess Leia, but it does illustrate a point: although she was a princess in need of rescuing, she shot her way out with everyone else and continued to take part in the rebel revolt as more than just a royal leader. One of the most common arguments against multi-faceted female characters is that they’re somehow non-feminine or unfeeling. There’s no way to make that argument float against Leia; not one. Yes, she’s a tough cookie. So are a lot of women in real life. She falls in love with a guy without taking any of his guff (women don’t have to be melodramatic victims to be feminine!), and then sneaks in to rescue his Vaseline-covered fanny from a giant slug-worm thing. She does do some emotional game-playing with Han Solo early on, she grows as a person over the course of the story to act more maturely later on. Even looking at it in the most shallow way possible though, she spends a huge portion of the last movie bonding with a community of fluffy teddy bear things, which shows a softer side as well. But I digress. My point is that, especially for a silly space opera based on old serials, she was a remarkably well-rounded and representative portrayal of a feminist character. My only beef is that when they brought her back for Force Awakens (which admittedly was not written by Lucas as the others were) she was in no way a Jedi and didn’t lift a finger to go after her nutty son like the still action-packed (if un-characteristically gullible and dumb) Han Solo was in that film.

8. New York Stories (1989)

newyorkstories-03For me, this is THE modern-day fairytale and a fine tongue-in-cheek role model for little girls. It has a mythological and magical feel, but all takes place in common settings with nothing strictly impossible occurring. The main character is a little girl who thwarts jewel thieves, saves a royal family from scandal and teaches a prince about friendship, and steers the destiny of her family – all without getting cartoonish or over the top. By being worldly from education and experience, yet childish in her curiosity and sense of fun, all without being spoiled or emotionally unstable, Zoe is a wonderfully aspirational character.

7. A League of Their Own (1992)

leagueI’ve always been a little annoyed by the ending in this one (and I think Hanks was the wrong casting choice since he’s too warm and fuzzy for that kind of role, but I digress), but the main point of the film is that it features a nuanced look at women from all walks of life with every character type who break silly gender barriers in sports.

6. Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit (1993)

actThis film showcases a range of personality types, and some fantastic singing by the whole cast. But it’s on this list because Whoopie plays a dynamic and capable leader (teamed up with other capable and talented women) without the usual feet of clay they tend to give these characters (e.g. being a domestic abuse victim, having an affair with a student or other teacher, being an alcoholic, etc., etc., etc.).

5. Jumpin’ Jack Flash (1986)

Screen Shot 2017-09-20 at 6.14.36 PMIn this film, Whoopie plays an office drone who gets caught up in espionage and saves the life of a spy. As far as I have seen, this was as close as we’ve come to a female equivalent for action-comedies like Fletch and Beverly Hills Cop (with the VERY recent exception of Spy, which unlike this film was directed by a man). It has a female protagonist, female director, and is told from a noticeably female point of view. Really, why the heck haven’t more films like this been made by now?

4. Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)

yeohMichelle Yeoh makes her second appearance on this list as the best Bond Girl ever, Wai Lin. She seriously kicks and saves Bond’s butt, and provides some of the best action scenes ever. You’ll have to fast-forward past all the godawful scenes with Teri Hatcher’s unbearably weak and stupid character (which I suppose could be seen as included to be the highlighting opposite of Yeoh’s ultra competent and intelligent character) and then it’s basically Wai Lin’s movie and Bond becomes her supporting character. My dad thinks the Greek lady in For Your Eyes Only is the strongest woman in a Bond movie, and I used to think it was the one in Moonraker until I realized that was actually a patronizing commentary against feminism, but I get his point to a degree. As a sidenote, this is also the Bond movie with the best and most relevant villain.

3. Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992)

buffyUnlike the sitcom-turned-trashy-soap-opera TV show version of Buffy, the movie version had an admirable leading lady – possibly largely because of her character arc from useless fop to competent modern woman and warrioress. Also, this character is a bit of a callback to some of the same reasons Legally Blonde is on the list having to do with maintaining your identity and tastes in tough circumstances. Okay, I can hear some of you out there saying, “But she was trained by a male father-figure!” And to that I say, what’s wrong with that? Everyone has two parents, and one of them is male. Some stories will have mother-figures for female protagonists and others will have father-figures. Balance is good and it doesn’t need to be all one way. Also, if you really want to take on currently trendy parlance, you could say he’s a “male ally” to a female character’s feminist growth. Either way, my point is the same. This is a particularly good movie about a strong female character.

2. Pride and Prejudice (1995)

prideThis mini-series adaptation (basically a really long movie) shows a wide range of the female personality, but focuses upon that of an intelligent, free-thinking, and bold lady, who is also polite and willing to admit when she’s wrong. Also, it’s nice to see a story about a woman to whom a man is drawn primarily by the strength of her unusually fine personality.

  1. Yentl (1983)

yentlA very deliberately feminist musical (written, directed, and starred in by an independent woman) that shows the value of knowledge and honors the role of forward-thinking fathers. Nuff said.

A couple close contenders that didn’t make the list, and why not:

Hidden Figures came close, but it has several flaws – which ironically stem from the writers straying too far from reality. For example, it bothered me when the main character ran across the campus to use the segregated toilet because it seemed so out of character for a woman scientist. The ones I’ve known were eminently practical and had a great deal of grit, so I expected her to just go ahead and use the ladies room that was in the building regardless of what anyone thought (which I later found out is what the woman did in real life). I think it would have been a stronger character choice too, since as far as I can tell the way it was written just made the protagonist weaker and gave her boss an (also non-believable) moment of heroism.

I also considered Wonder Woman. There’s nothing really wrong with open pandering, but honestly her male love interest came off as the true protagonist (he had a noticeable character arc, got all the good lines, put together and led the scruffy band of misfits) with WW as his female sidekick. Also, the WW character in that film was generally too 2-dimensional for my tastes and was being led around by the nose – by men.

Nine to Five I can definitely see an argument for, especially when it came out, but it seems very dated to me now.

The Stepford Wives was a decent try, but it’s just too silly and the final argument, though valid, is a little flawed.

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Notes From a Talk by Walter Murch

murch

Back when I was first trying to figure out an early version of iMovie to cut stuff I’d shot on Hi-8 tapes, more than a decade ago, I saw a documentary named The Cutting Edge. It was revolutionary for me because I had never really, really thought that hard about the editing aspect of filmmaking. Writing, camera, directing, and acting was about all I’d had a clear idea about and I was kind of afraid of all the fancy software. So much so that I had been editing by recording bits of stuff directly onto VHS from my handi-cam as a method of editing. In retrospect, that was an awfully silly thing to do, even if it did work  – in a super clunky way. That film’s central speaker, from an editor’s POV, seemed to be Walter Murch. I was terribly impressed with the whole documentary, the historical perspective on the job, and by what Murch in particular had to say about the practice of editing.

Some years ago when I was in grad school at USC, I had the unique pleasure of attending a talk by the guy who had so impressed me. Now that I have a little more editing experience under my own belt, I was also able to appreciate what he had to say from a beginner’s level of professional respect. I took notes about everything that seemed important at the time, and in case you find them useful too here they are:

He explained that Janus was the god of transitions who looks to both the past and the future, showing an image to match.

He the previous that year he’d finished editing Particle Fever and that year was editing Tomorrowland.

He showed a quote by Victor Fleming about how editors make films look well directed, then gave a brief history of editing and theory.

He said he thinks of editing more as building, pointing out that the word “montage’ is French for the concept of building.

He talked about the word “fungibility,” which has nothing to do with fungus. He explained that it meant the property of changing or transitioning (actually it usually means interchangeable, but that’s pretty close). He illustrated his point by explaining that money changed from gold bricks to symbolic paper like checks around 1500, that energy changed from steam/coal to electricity around 1900, and that information was changing to a digital format in the current era.

He mentioned an essay by Maxim Gorky called “Kingdom of Shadows,” which was about the man’s first time seeing a movie back in 1896 and the fact that he complained about a lack of color and sound right then. And also that he saw the splice from the Lumiere’s “pulling out the Coke” film to the one with the train as a “click” – like an edit.

He mentioned that 11 min of film, 1000ft, weighs 11lb. So 1lb per minute. Apocalypse Now used 14,160 min (7 tons of workprint) and Particle Fever was 32,000 min of footage. He said that was an advantage of digital, that a workflow and storage for that would have been virtually impossible for Particle Fever otherwise.

He mentioned 3 main aspects of editing: Plumbing (his word for workflow), writing (editors must basically write documentaries, and others as well to a degree), and performance.

He said that The Unbearable Lightness of Being had about 50-60 hours of footage mostly shot by Prague film students, and they had to make the new footage match the old by making positive prints off of existing positive work prints with dust and scratches then recombined to edit.

He mentioned that he used  Final Cut 7 for Particle Fever (which had many audio tracks and was 32 bit, and required  four 4 TB drives and one 1TB drive for storage), but that he had to use Avid for Tomorrowland because it’s 64 bit (despite the extremely limited number of tracks one can have) and there were some aspects of the program that were preferable to Premiere for the project.

He showed how he uses big boards with colored notes to organize editing for a project, especially a doc. The colors stand for each major character, triangle shaped bits mean time periods, and diamond shaped bits stand for events.

He uses representative still shots for each camera setup (to show why they shot the given shot) and lists which camera and take they are from.

Using this system, like a structure board and representative images, he explained, was like how having a map makes getting lost okay because you can always use it to find your way back to the river channel, so to speak.

He said Tomorrowland was mostly being shot with a Sony F55 or F65.

He illustrated that in the digital era Pixar and similar film companies make total control over a movie possible, so that  21st Century filmmakers must now choose between a place on the spectrum from over-controlled filmmaking (the older equivalent being how Hitchcock worked) and practically uncontrolled/spontaneous filmmaking (an equivalent being Coppola).

He mentioned that since his assistant editor wrote the manual for FCP X, he had a reasonable assumption that it was made primarily to appeal to inexperienced kids/the general public, but was “not ready for primetime” as it lacked some functionality and was likely released prematurely.

He theorized that the ideal number of cuts per minute was culturally based, but that the ideal number of setups per minute was about 14.

He stands to edit, but sits to review material. He reclines to make ideas drift up from the ether of his mind.

The rest of my notes were packed away in a recent move, so I’ll add to this post later when I find them.

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My Top 100 Favorite Movies

Some years ago, I published a list of the top 100 movies that everyone in filmmaking should see. Today, I’d like to follow that up with my top 100 favorite films list – the ones I enjoy the most regardless of their historical or technical merits. Some appear in both lists, but I think it’s mostly different. I can’t realistically rank them because many are just too different so, as with the other list, they’re in chronological order. Also, it’s likely that I will go back and revise this post from time to time as my tastes change.

This list is also different, because I decided to give a micro-description of what I like about each one – although I might go back and update the other post in this fashion as well.

Either way, here it is:

College (1927) – Keaton included the greatest variety of his physical stunts and jokes in this movie. Also, it’s one of only a handful of films about college that I enjoy.
Tarzan the Ape Man (1932) – The best version of this story, even if it has little to do with the books. Also, this is where THE Tarzan yell originated.
The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934) – There is so much to love about this period noir thriller. The acting, the editing, the psychology of the writing, and even the humor.
Bright Eyes (1934) – I had to put one Shirley Temple movie on here. This one is probably the most iconic, although Poor Little Rich Girl (1936) is arguably more fun.
Rainbow Valley (1935) – My favorite corny John Wayne western. Honestly, I don’t know why.
Great Guy (1936) – The best Cagney movie in my opinion, and also the only crime thriller I know of involving an agent from the Dept. of Weights and Measure cracking a crime ring.
My Man Godfrey (1936) – Even before I knew the dialogue for this was all improv, I loved this film because it combines some very fine acting with extremely salient social commentary that’s still relevant today (maybe even more than back then).
Little Lord Fauntleroy (1936) – This film is very sweet and a wonderful social/philosophical discussion piece. It’s also interesting because it’s sort of like a Shirley Temple film, but non-musical and from a male point of view.
Let’s Sing Again (1936) – Largely along the same lines of Fauntleroy, but this time with singing. I really love these old sentimental flickers with good music.
Swing Time (1936) – Tied for first place with the next entry as the best of the Fred Astair and Ginger Rodgers movies.
Shall we Dance (1937) – This and the above movie had a lot to do with my taking a year of tap dance and earning 2 degrees in filmmaking.
The Saint in New York (1938) – This film is the first true American Noir movie to my mind. Also the only Saint movie that wasn’t a comedy.
Mr. Moto’s Gamble (1938) – The best of the Mr. Moto movies. Lorre did an amazing job in this role, but somebody seriously needs to remake these with an actual Japanese actor. Don’t make me do it myself!
The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) – Best (non-comedy) Robin Hood movie ever! Classy, fun, action-packed, well acted. Great costumes too.
Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939) – This film looks into so many aspects of life and humanity, and does it so well. This is one of the few movies with an incredibly sad ending that I absolutely love.
The Four Feathers (1939) – A story about how being thoughtful and non-conformist can get you shunned by people who follow blindly, but can also make you the smartest and most effective agent of change in your actions.
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) – Okay, the ending is extremely flawed by being unrealistically easy and optimistic. But the main drift of the movie about fighting against corporate corruption in politics and gullibility/pessimism in the public is well done.
Our Town (1940) – An excellent social/psychological/character study. Also, very sentimental and sweet.
The Mark of Zorro (1940) – The first super hero story! Well, sort of. I love the acting in this film, and the fencing scenes. And I like that the heroine isn’t a total idiot like in most superhero films.
Pimpernel’ Smith (1941) – A thematic sequel to Scarlet Pimpernel, this is a powerful adaptation of that story to rescuing victims of the German camps in WWII. Aside from the wonderful acting/writing/editing/etc of this Noir spy thriller, it was also an incredible bit of propaganda to get the Americans involved in the war. If you read up on the history of this film, you’ll find that watching it even influenced a foreign minister to smuggle hundreds of victims out of Germany himself and – that the film’s leading actor may have been a spy in real life.
Shadow of the Thin Man (1941) – If you only watch one of the Thin Man movie series, make it this one. It has all the best villains and all the cutest quips. My favorite of the series is really Thin Man Goes Home, but it’s largely because that film turns the patterns of the rest of the series on their heads.
Holiday Inn (1942) – Every major holiday in one movie, accompanied by a song for each one! Now, yes, Fred Astaire kind of plays a villain in this one, but if I can get over it so can you. I think it juuust has the edge over White Christmas.
To Be or Not to Be (1942) – This film is at once hilarious, sweet and deadly serious in different parts. Inglorious Basterds can take a flying leap. If you watch one movie about Jews kicking Nazi butts this is the one.
Sons of the Pioneers (1942) – Roy Rogers plays a chemist-cowboy who beats cattle rustlers with science! Also, Gabby Hayes and Pat Brady in the same film as dual sidekicks. Who could ask for more!?!
Stormy Weather (1943) – A great showcase of blues music with some fine acting.
Laura (1944) – This is THE Noir movie, period.
The Thin Man Goes Home (1945) – The cutest and silliest of the Thin Man series.
State Fair (1945) – At first I liked this movie because it’s fun and has good music, but in later years (being someone who grew up going to the county fair every year and competing in the contests) I also grew to like it for sentimental reasons. There’s another version of this movie that stinks. Avoid it and watch this one.
Welcome Stranger (1947) – Bing Crosby and Barry Fitzgerald starred in a series of films together, most famously in Going My Way, but this is the best one. They have great onscreen chemistry and comedic timing.
Miracle on 34th Street (1947) – This is the only good version of the film, mostly because of the great casting. I do have qualms about Santa knocking the bad guy with his cane, but other than that this movie is perfect.
Treasure Island (1950) – If I ever try to write an anti-hero character, Silver will be my model for comparison. He’s not quite a villain, and definitely not a hero. He’s a truly multi-faceted character in a way that doesn’t exist in today’s media. Also, this is just a great adventure story.
Harvey (1950) – Jimmy Stewart at his best, playing a dreamy-eyed yet down to earth man who carries a strange kind of wisdom and inner peace through life in this classic comedy.
Scrooge (1951) – There are a few key story beats in the book that are missing, but overall this is the most faithful and most heartfelt version of the story ever produced on film.
The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) – The quintessential science fiction movie, mostly for the atmosphere and general feeling of the movie. It has aliens, a little kid sidekick, social commentary, and nobody acting unduly stupid.
Singin’ in the Rain (1952) – It’s the best (and kind of the most accurate) film about the entertainment industry I know, and it’s good enough to re-watch again and again. Not to shabby for a film that was only made to sell a list of songs.
The Girl Can’t Help It (1956) – A great parody of almost everything in 1950s pop culture.
Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956) – The best super-cheesy sci-fi monster movie.
Auntie Mame (1958) – I think I like this film because it embraces the eccentric without being insulting, and because Russel delivers a great performance as usual – unlike the other version of the film (blech!).
St. Louis Blues (1958) – An amazing story, told in an effective way and with surprisingly excellent acting.
A Hard Day’s Night (1964) – Good music, silly story, entertaining mockumentary antics.
The Endless Summer (1966) – Even if you don’t like or care about surfing, you’ll love this film. It’s just good storytelling, silly comedy, and some gorgeous places.
How to Steal a Million (1966) – Cutest and most romantic heist movie ever.
Wait Until Dark (1967) – Not your average Hepburn film. This is one of the most tense, almost scary at times, thrillers of the era with one of the most evil villains around.
Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town (1970) – I STILL watch this every Christmas. There have been other attempts at a Santa Claus origin story, but this one is leaps and bounds above the rest. Also, pretty amazing stop-motion for a TV movie.
Star Wars original trilogy, un-messed-with versions (1977-1983) – I’m not sure I can faithfully tell you why I like these films. I’ve been watching them since I was an infant and they’re part of my psyche.
The Muppet Movie (1979) – One of the few great road movies, with one of the best songs ever written. And, I mean come on, muppets!
Superman (1978) – There is but one true Superman. The ending is stupid, but the rest is so good I don’t care.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) – The only movie to ever make me jump in my seat. Also, it’s just got a lot of corny goodness. That wandering in the alien zombies scene, perfect!
The Blues Brothers (1980) – The last great musical. Seriously, there just weren’t any after that.
Chariots of Fire (1981) – Really strong writing and really crafted filmmaking.
Strange Brew (1983) – Too funny not to completely love.
Trading Places (1983) – Great comedians doing elaborate social commentary.
2010 (1984) – Even better than the previous film, 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Back to the Future (1985) – Really the whole trilogy, since it’s one continuous story. There’s everything good and nothing bad about these movies.
Fletch (1985) – The Fletch films were the last great reporter solving a mystery movies.
Jumpin’ Jack Flash (1986) – A very funny movie, and also kind of a feminist film.
Roxanne (1987) – An excellent modernization of Cyrano de Bergerac.
Back to the Beach (1987) – The last, and best, sequel of the 1960s beach movies with Frankie and Annette.
Spaceballs (1987) – You wouldn’t think a parody of Star Wars would be such a great movie in its own right, but here it is.
Big (1988) – Hanks at his silliest and cutest.
Willow (1988) – Soooo much better than LOTR. Yeah, I said it and it’s true.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) – Unique and strange, but good.
The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988) – A far-reaching adventure story with one of the better female protagonists in film (the little girl).
The Wizard of Speed and Time (1988) – This film is about every independent filmmaker ever, including now. It somehow inspired me to make films even though it also showed me just how they’d never get seen.
Young Einstein (1988) – Just an incredible piece of comedy historical parody filmmaking.
Life Without Zoe – sub-movie in New York Stories (1989) – Kind of an aspirational fairytale for modern-day little girls who dream of traveling the world.
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) – My favorite of the series, mostly because of the interplay between him and his father. One of the great action-comedies.
Back to the Future Part III (1990) – Again, the best of the series. Most amazing character arcs, and one of the best female protagonists in film as Doc’s lady love.
Ghost (1990) – I mostly like this film because Whoopie is hilarious and the sound design is incredible.
Home Alone (1990) – I rewatched this as an adult, and it’s actually much more than a comedy. It’s really quite an interesting film despite the central logic errors.
The Rescuers Down Under (1990) – A great adventure film with funny cartoon mice.
Hook (1991) – Some great character study work here, and an impressive example of a subpar script being turned into a great movie by all the best people in Hollywood getting involved.
The Rocketeer (1991) – A great throwback to 1940s adventure serials, and some great moments of American patriotism against them filthy Nazis.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) – Actually a great piece of sci-fi in addition to being a very explody action movie. Also one of the few movies where I can’t decide between the theatrical release and the director’s cut because they’re both good for different reasons.
A League of Their Own (1992) – One of the few great feminist films.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992) – One of the few great action-comedies with a female lead.
Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit (1993) – Some mind-blowingly great singing here. The writing’s not bad either for the most part.
Groundhog Day (1993) – So funny! That’s all.
Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993) – Some of the best comedy ever put on film, and not a bad adaptation of the Robin Hod story either.
The Shawshank Redemption (1994) – This is one of those few almost perfect movies. Just need to edit out 2 short scenes. Other than that, this movie is truly incredible.
I.Q. (1994) – A cute romantic comedy about geniuses in love.
Wallace & Gromit in A Close Shave (1995) – Probably the most cohesive story in the series. They’re all good though.
Dracula: Dead and Loving It (1995) – Best Dracula movie ever, tied for first place with Robin Hood as the best Mel Brooks movie. Why couldn’t he have kept making films!?! Why!?!
Rumble in the Bronx (1995) – Some of Chan’s most creative fight scenes, and the first film of his I ever saw.
Babe (1995) – This movie should be really stupid, but it’s actually thoughtful and crafted and really sweet.
Canadian Bacon (1995) – One of the best, if not the best, political comedies ever made. And by Michael Moore yet. Not just a documentarian, clearly.
Independence Day (1996) – All around a pretty great action movie. The 2 main characters are the most fun to watch. Definitely Goldblum and Smith at their best. Just ignore the depressingly awful sequel.
Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) – My favorite Bond girl ever (the smart, capable one; not the idiot who dies).
Monsters, Inc. (2001) – Just a cute film with a fun premise. Also the only Pixar movie that isn’t bizarre or unnecessarily sad.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007) – The best one in the series. Extends the philosophical argument from Star Wars about the dark side and includes some great character study with relevant political commentary. I just wish the good Dumbledore could have been in it instead of Gambon – who was muuuuch better as Maigret.
Hot Fuzz (2007) – This is such a strange and bizarre, yet innovative comedy I can’t help but like it. Just a slight edge over Shaun of the Dead – because it’s more original.

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Review: War for the Planet of the Apes

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Story: A military colonel attacks Caesar’s camp, causing Caesar to seek him out for revenge. But on the journey Cesar comes across a new human-plague and ends up in more of a psychological than physical war with the colonel.

Review:

First, the obvious. The VFX in this film are absolutely stunning and more realistic looking than anything I’ve seen before. While some of the motion capture had a few rare bumps and the integration of a waterfall in one scene had some seeming frame rate issues, the texturing and animation of the CG critters was phenomenal. The film is worth watching if only to see the artistry of the VFX and animation teams.

Now for the meat of any movie: the story. Visually, thematically, and storywise, this film is very obviously trying to be Apocalypse Now with Apes – or as some graffiti in the film puts it “Ape-ocalypse Now.” The general mis-en-scene is strongly reminiscent overall, but it didn’t become a totally shameless homage until the scene with the shaven-headed madman (seen above) having droning philosophical conversations about war and morality with the captive protagonist in his bunker while classic 60’s rock music plays in the background. I have to admit, I was a little disappointed that nobody said “I love the smell of [something that burns] in the morning” at some point in the film since they had already gone as far as they did. It was a decent imitation, but I would have preferred original writing over re-creation. Also, and I mention this only because the same problem existed in Wonder Woman (see last review), there were an excessive number of moments where the leading characters postured proudly or gazed defiantly at each other without speaking for extended periods of time. You need this at key moments, of course, but if you do it all the time it loses all meaning and importance.

As for the more serialized part of the story, the plague thing was… okay. I prefer the original version where people just devolve over a long period of time due to domestication, but stuff caused by messing with DNA is a more modern sci-fi idea so it’s fine. I do disagree with the shortened timeline though. Since the experimentation was supposed to have happened 15 years before and the main characters of the first POTA film are children in this, it means that the timeline of all the movies put together is only about 20-30 years. It makes enough sense given the DNA alteration thing, but it’s so much less epic than a story which takes place over hundreds or thousands of years like the original version.

Recommended for: Fans of heavily psychological war movies and VFX-heavy films.

Content notes: (10+, PG) – Nothing outrageously gross, pretty violent but not super violent, more psychologically warped than anything else.

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Review: Wonder Woman

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I probably should have posted this on June 2 when I saw it, but hey, who actually reads this blog anyway?

Story: We see Wonder Woman’s origin story on an island of Amazons, but when super-spy Steve crash lands by the shore pursued by German soldiers, Wonder Woman joins the fight and leaves the island to become a participant in World War I.

Review: Overall, an okay movie. The story and structure were a bit all over the place but in general it reminded me a lot of Captain America: The First Avenger – especially the ending. More on that later. First, what I liked. Initially I wasn’t sure about the casting, but now I’ve seen that she’s being written as a silent warrior type with little to no sense of humor (e.g. Worf from Star Trek or Teal’c from Stargate SG-1, Teyla from Stargate Atlantis) and with that in mind she’s an excellent choice. She has good intensity and doesn’t look like a weakling. The accent/ethnicity thing I hear people fuss about I can totally ignore because 1970s comic canon has her mother sculpting a twin sister of a completely different race for her so WW can be whatever ethnicity looks fairly close to the comics. I also liked that they gave her a band of misfits to travel with. Since she’s written in such a dry way, she needs other characters to react off of her for entertainment value.

Now, my nit-pickery. Every action movie needs one or two moments when the hero stands in an obvious glory pose before a crowd/blazing destruction/dawn, but this film did it too darned much. It lost it’s emphasis after the first few times early in the film. One thing that I admit I’m only picking on because the director is female is the body language in Act II. When Steve takes her to the city, he’s always pulling her by the arm, pushing her with a hand to her back, or hauling her about with an arm around her. On the one hand, I doubt a warriors who had grown up around all women would be used to or accepting of that kind of treatment. On the other hand, it sends a signal to the audience that undermines the WW as a protagonist, and an independent woman. There there’s the costume. As you can see from the above image, the costume design followed the same drearily dark-colored stack of plastic plates design that all superhero costumes use nowadays. Also I kinda miss the blue cuffs, gold tiara, and stars on her culottes (or whatever they are now). I like that they emblem looks a little more eagle-like than W like though. The casting of David Thewlis (Prof. Lupin from Harry Potter) worked for the first part of the movie, but not for the end because he just doesn’t have that kind of personality to work with. Certain bits of background VFX looked kind of terrible in some of the battle scenes for some reason (sky, smoke, sparks, etc.), but if I saw in on my computer instead of a giant theater screen I probably wouldn’t notice at all so it hardly matters. The majority of the VFX were perfectly clean and nice. Finally,  I have 3 issues with Steve, and unfortunately I need to tell spoilers to examine them so from here on out the review is a * SPOILER ALERT *. First, he’s given such importance and agency in the story (finds the research, assembles the team, makes the ultimate sacrifice to save everyone, etc.) that he often seems like more of a protagonist than Wonder Woman. Secondly, although I understand the emotional/structural need for Steve’s death, the writers didn’t paint him into a corner nearly enough to make suicide a reasonable option. With a plane full of time-bombed gas he could have 1) Flown it elsewhere to detonate it without being inside 2) Set the timer in the air and parachuted to safety while it exploded 3) Defused the bomb and burned up the gas 4) Removed the bomb and burned up the gas 5) Had Wonder Woman blow up the plane since she’s basically indestructible. Thirdly, as long as we’re at it, I disagree that killing him off was even necessary. Wonder Woman could have learned her lesson about love and believing in humanity through the actions of Steve and the supporting characters (had they been given a tad bit of character growth). Actually, what would have been funny is if they’d gender-reversed an old cliché by having Steve try to sacrifice himself only to have WW punch him unconscious and take his place, thereby saving the day. She could then do the rockem sockem god battle afterwards.

Recommended for: Die-hard superhero movie fans and people forced to watch it in solidarity because having a female director apparently makes a movie into a feminist film nowadays.

Content notes: (12+) – Quite violent, and some people might have a problem with the wide shot of naked Chris Pratt covering his junk (with one hand).

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Mini-Review: Ghost in the Shell (2017)

 

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Story:  In an era of cyborg modifications being de rigueur, a female cyborg-soldier tries to find a terrorist brain-hacker in Japan.

Review: Although the VFX in this movie are impressive, they’re nothing new – and the cracked eggshell appearance of the cyber-bodies (see picture) is kinda silly looking. Most of the acting is underwhelming, except for notably good performances by Juliette Binoche and the actress playing the protag’s mother, but I think that’s mostly the director’s choice. The narrative style of the film feels very awkward for this reason. Firstly, the director makes all of the American and British actors use the slow and under-reacting style familiar to Japanese cinema, and it looks quite forced. Secondly, the scenes rapidly swerve from this style of long, silent pauses and expressionless glances to fast-cut American-style action sequences with scenery-chewing moments of performance. One gets the feel of mental whiplash from seemingly switching between two different genres of movies throughout the film. That said, the most talked about aspect of the film has been casting and story. *The entire rest of this post is one giant spoiler – you have been warned* On the face of it, this movie is about an evil corporation that steals the brains of runaways and stuffs them into cyborg bodies, turning them into sentient slaves and claiming this is the next step in evolution. But given all the hype about race and the choice of which actors aren’t Japanese (the corporate guy, the lady scientist, and the two main cyborg characters), I prefer to puckishly think of it as a dystopian tale of colonialism where an evil corporate white-supremacist guy transplants the brains of Japanese teens into caucasian cyber-bodies in order to slowly turn make the whole world look like the same race. Still doesn’t make it a super entertaining film though.

Recommended for: Uhh, I’ll get back to you on that one.

Content notes: (14+) – Some especially gross VFX

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Mini-Review: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

Yes, I decided to start posting again – occasionally. I’ve started watching more new films than people are willing to hear me drone on about, so I need an outlet once again. So. here we go!

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Story: Star-Lord and Gamora (seen above) both reconnect with lost family members in ways that will determine the fate of the galaxy.

Review: This is definitely a better movie than Vol. 1. The first 2 acts have the same unbalanced feel and kind of struggle to get the story moving, but the characters feel more complete and multilayered – plus the dialogue writing is much punchier. The comedic style parallels Big Trouble in Little China, which works well considering they share one of their lead actors.The third act really comes together and delivers good story with an emotional punch and some unexpectedly good jokes. The VFX are wonderful, and I especially applaud the youth-making VFX on Kurt Russel because he only looks slightly out of focus instead of appearing like a scary robot monster the way Jeff Bridges’ face did in TRON: Legacy. The major theme of the film is family (although this is by no means a family movie). It begins by showing us a poetic version of Peter’s parents meeting, and then shows us how the whole team is raising baby Groot. Gamora’s long lost sister soon enters the story. The music choices are all great, and there were even some I’d never heard before. But oftentimes the placement was confusing because the lyrics had nothing to do with what was going on in the story – most notably The Chain by Fleetwood Mack. Overall, though, I’d say it’s a fun little movie and it’s worth seeing.

Recommended for: People familiar with 1970s-80s music and pop culture, young males who like oaf-humor.

Content notes: (12+) – Some kinda harsh emotional violence, some gross VFX, lots of swearing.

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Weekly Mini-Review: Bananas (1971)

Story: A nebbish product-tester pretends to be interested in loopy political groups to impress a girl. When the relationship falls through, he takes an already planned trip to a small Latin American country and gets forced into becoming part of its national politics.

Review: To call this movie absurdist would be an understatement – which is one of the reasons it’s worth watching. Gags like a group of musicians pretending to play, in total silence, is one of those things that a screenwriting teacher would never allow in a final draft. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t absolutely hilarious! Allen’s relationship humor is, as usual, nothing worth paying much attention to. But it’s in there so randomly that it can easily be ignored. Overall, worth watching.

Recommended for: Fans of Sleeper, Zelig, and the few several actually funny Woody Allen movies.

Content notes: (14+) – Some nudity and crude verbal jokes/dialogue.

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Weekly Mini-Review: On Golden Pond (1981)

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Story: Family dynamics between an old couple, their daughter, and the son of her husband-to-be change when everyone visits during a summer at the family cabin.

Review: The cinematography in this movie is absolutely phenomenal: indoor, outdoor, and nature photography that positively paints with light. Although all the actors are consummate professionals, and excellent actors in general, I don’t think they were right for the parts they played. Henry Fonda  and Katherine Hepburn feel too much like they’re officially playing the curmudgeon fuddy duddy types and are pretty much only genuine in short bursts with the other characters. About as close as Hepburn can get to this kind of part is the one she played in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. Both of them seem like the kind of old folks who stay sharp as tacks and have a tough time acting any other way believably. Nonetheless, they were all enjoyable to watch. The ending resolution between the Fondas felt like it came a bit too easily, but the fact that they really were father and daughter in real life makes it interesting enough to watch their acting in the key scene so that I can forgive the theatrical writing.

Recommended for: Fans of family argument movies, fans of great cinematography

Content notes: (PG) – A tiny amount of swearing and arguing, but nothing particularly offensive.

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